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No Strings Review -- Nothing to Sing About

By Scott Hanselman

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It's been said that the clothes make the man, and if this be so, then Bob Mackie and Joe McFate have surely made more men than Anna Nicole Smith.  Mackie and McFate are the costume designers for Reprise! Broadway's Best's production of No Strings, now showing at UCLA's Freud Playhouse, and it is their vision that provides the show's only sparkle.  From the opening moments when the ensemble members are silhouetted against a stark orange background to the very end, the audience is treated to a visual cornucopia of sequined gowns, natty suits, and evocative period outfits, all set ablaze by Steven Young's fantastic lighting scheme!

The lovely Brown offers encouragement

This visual extravaganza, unfortunately, is the most compelling aspect of the show.  The cast, with Scott Bakula in the lead as David Jordan, Sophina Brown as the woman he loves, and several veteran Broadway performers, are talented and capable, but they never show it here.  There simply aren't any show-stopping moments, and no real emotional impact is ever felt.  Indeed, the ensemble members, all youthful and gorgeous, seem to steal focus from the story.

No Strings first appeared on Broadway in 1962 as Richard Rodgers' first production without long-time collaborator Oscar Hammerstein, who had died several years earlier.  The show featured Richard Kiley and Diahann Carroll' who was in attendance at the Freud opening' as the leads, and the play garnered several Tony awards, including one for Rodgers as Best Composer.  It's hard not to wonder, however, if Rodgers' award was a token gesture for which Broadway and Hollywood are so famous.

Sophina Brown serenades Scott Bakula

The songs in No Strings are simple, uninteresting, and biggest sin of all, entirely forgettable.  Only 'Loads of Love,' sung by Brown, and 'Eager Beaver,' sung by the sassy Bets Malone as Comfort O'Connell, really grab the audience.  The rest of the material is insipid and stretches none of the performers.

Sophina Brown, playing Barbara, is the only saving grace in the show.  She is stunningly gorgeous with vivid and expressive eyes, but it is hard to see why she would have any interest in Bakula's character.  As a down-on-his-luck writer, Bakula is a perpetual downer.  He never seems to open his eyes, and he lumbers around the stage like Boris Karloff. 

Scott Bakula or Boris Karloff?

Just when I expected to see bolts growing out the side of his neck, I was rewarded!  Bakula's microphone--which had been wired up the back of his shirt and through his hair' revealed itself, not unlike a snake peeping out of the hole, or an alien from Star Trek: Enterprise, one of Bakula's television vehicles.  In fact, several of the actors had 'spinach in their teeth' moments as they performed with their mikes dangling conspicuously on their foreheads, causing distraction and prompting the thought as to why they weren't able to fill the smallish 500-seat venue with the sound of their voices, unaided by speakers.

Ruth Williamson, as Barbara's agent, has a handful of good comedic snaps, but far too few to keep this show from stumbling.

No Strings runs through May 20th at the UCLA Freud Playhouse.  Call for tickets at 310-825-2101.

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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